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Dead in the water

mumbai Updated: Mar 22, 2011 00:55 IST
Snehal Rebello
Snehal Rebello
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

It’s been more than six months since the Ganesh idols were immersed in Bhujale Talao at Chincholi Bunder, Malad. But for residents, the reddish pink water is strong reminder of the visarjan (immersion) of nearly 500 coloured plaster of Paris idols.

“There are just two occasions when the talao gets cleaned — before Ganesh utsav or prior to an election,” said Chandru Kadam, 49, a Malad resident. “Soon after the immersion, the talao stinks of strong chemicals. The rest of the time, it is full of garbage.”

Nestled between a temple and residential buildings, the talao was used to water acres of fields that no longer exist. Having grown up walking around the fields and watching his neighbours fish in the talao, Kadam traced its deterioration to the construction of Malad Link Road in the late 1980s. “Buildings replaced the gaothan and the talao was neglected,” recalled Kadam.

Bhujale Talao’s deterioration is not an isolated instance of a neglected water body. At Ashish Talao, Chembur, smoke bubbles and dead fish have been reported while Charkop lake has been filled to make way for buildings.

A 2009 study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature found that of the 68 lakes surveyed in Mumbai, 63.2% were used to dump garbage. About 60% were used for washing clothes and as toilets with 22% used for bathing. Religious offerings were disposed of in 41% of the lakes and 32.4% had sewage released in to them.

In water bodies such as the one behind the Leela Hotel at Andheri or Chandivli Lake at Powai, rubble and construction debris has been dumped. “There are natural springs around water bodies that either get blocked or damaged because of the debris. As a result, there is no water to rejuvenate the lake,” said Goldin Quadros, Mumbai chief, WWF.

These water bodies were once a source of water before the piped variety made its way into homes in the early 20th century. “There is a historical value attached to all the water bodies. They were used for both drinking and non-drinking purposes,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design and Research Institute. “With most of them having natural springs, these tanks were holding areas and extremely important for water conservation. Unfortunately, today, their utilitarian value has gone.”

There are small citizen movements and non-governmental organisations that restore these water bowls. For instance, the local fishing community restored Dingeshwar Talao at Charkop with funds provided by MP Ram Naik. A blackboard at the entrance lists various ‘don’ts’ and anyone caught littering has to pay Rs 1,200 as penalty.

Water bodies fall within the jurisdiction of different authorities — the collector, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority and private owners such as mills.

To get a comprehensive status check on these water bodies, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region-Environment Improvement Society (MMR-EIS) in 2008 collaborated with Ahmedabad-based HCP Design and Adarkar Associates in Mumbai to map all water bodies in the city. “Land use is based on population projections. Urban planning has not matured to understand the urban environment because environment-related discussions have been around for only 10 years,” said Prasad Shetty, secretary, MMR-EIS.

The two-year report, likely to be ready by mid-April, will map the water bodies, carry out a condition assessment and prepare an action plan. “We will meet with all the stakeholders and discuss what needs to be done,” said Shetty.

Given the erratic monsoons, environmentalists say these water bodies must be conserved for non-potable purposes. More than 75% of the city’s water is used for non-potable purposes; restoring these ponds and lakes will help minimise the use of freshwater. “The civic body should invest in recharging groundwater that will ensure these bodies are full throughout the year,” said Chembur-based environmental activist Rajkumar Sharma. “Why wait for a bad monsoon?”